Let me start with a little historical background. If you were to step back in time and travel across the Roman Empire in the first century then you would find an empire that ruled over many cultures. Even though most Jews lived in Palestine, some Jewish settlements were scattered around the the Mediterranean from the time the Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel about 722 B.C. Four hundred years later Alexander the Great would rule much of the eastern empire and spread a Hellenistic culture that would last well into the first century of the common era. The Greek influence in architecture throughout the Roman Empire can still be seen in ruins across Europe and the Mediterranean regions as well as Turkey, the Middle East and North Africa. Judea was not dispersed permanently until 70 A.D. when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Herodian Temple.
Across the Roman Empire the people – both Romans and many of those the Romans had conquered – worshiped multiple gods, but the Jews persisted in claiming one God who was so sacred to them that they did not even use his actual name. The cultures around the ancient Jews even erected monuments to “the god with no name.” You may remember in the story of Moses and the burning bush he asked God what he should call Him. God replied, “I am that I am.” Let’s face it: this is, at best, ambiguous, and religious scholars have been arguing for centuries about just what it means.
“I am that I am” is a little cumbersome as a reference to or a name for God, and in Judaism they developed some alternatives that were easier to apply and still observe the prohibition of calling God by name. One is Yahweh. If you go to a synagogue today you find Him called Hashem. There are others, but you get the idea.
When Jesus came he spoke about “God our father,” and the Jewish religious officials said it was blasphemy because the carpenter’s son spoke in such familiarity and his words made Jesus “God.” Such an utterance would have been considered a grave offense then, and even today it might get the speaker commited to an asylum.
The message that Jesus brought gave the people a God who was approachable, not a God who only stayed in the Holy of Holies in the Temple in Jerusalem, jealous, angry and terrifying. Jesus even called Him “Abba,” which roughly translates to “daddy.”
In Jewish tradition God is hard, demanding and vengeful. But the way I see God – through Jesus – He is compassionate and loving, and he beckons his children to come to Him. He wants us to return to Him so that He may heal our bodies and our hearts. He does have expectations that we will treat each other with love and that we will be of service to one another, and I believe we are accountable to God for our actions, someday and somehow.
But the enduring lesson of Jesus was the message that when we fall short of God’s expectations the result is not anger but forgiveness.
That is how I try to present Him in the Women of the Bible series.